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When Republican strategists are trying to appeal to moderates and downplay the extremism that has overturn their party, they will often say something along the lines of, “We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.” The problem with that type of argument is that many Republicans of the past, even Reagan, wouldn’t be far enough to the right for today’s Trumpified GOP — which, according to liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, has ceased to be a traditional conservative party and is now an extremist “cult” in which unquestioning loyalty to former President Donald Trump is mandatory.
This week in his Times column, Krugman argues, “Many people, myself included, have declared for years that the GOP is no longer a normal political party. It doesn’t look anything like, say, Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party or Germany’s Christian Democrats. But it bears a growing resemblance to the ruling parties of autocratic regimes.”
The columnist goes on to say that one can gain a better understanding of today’s GOP by reading New Zealand-based researcher Xavier Márquez’s paper, “The Mechanisms of Cult Production,” which discusses the “leader principle.”
Krugman explains, “‘The Mechanisms of Cult Production’ compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula’s Rome to the Kim family’s North Korea, and finds striking similarities. Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs ‘loyalty signaling’ and ‘flattery inflation.’”
The “leader principle,” according to Krugman, is very much at work when Republicans go to ridiculous, absurd extremes to show their loyalty to Trump.
“In the context of dictatorial regimes,” Krugman observes, “signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the leader and his agenda, often including ‘nauseating displays of loyalty.’ If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?”
Trump has been gone from the White House for half a year. President Joe Biden was inaugurated six months ago on January 20. Yet so many Republicans continue to view the former president as their leader in exile at Mar-a-Lago.
Krugman argues that Republicans will even discourage vaccination for COVID-19 if they think that doing so will impress Trump. Republicans who are trying to express their loyalty to Trump by opposing COVID-19 vaccines, according to Krugman, are “putting the whole nation at risk” and “will almost surely kill large numbers of Americans in the next few months.”
“Democrats are by no means immune to the power of special interests or the lure of the revolving door,” Krugman writes. “But the GOP has become something different with, as far as I know, no precedent in American history — although with many precedents abroad. Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. And all of us may pay the price.”